Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
Confidence cuts both ways. Too much confidence leads to arrogance and the cutting off of new and potentially stimulating information and opinion. Too little confidence leads to low self-esteem, reluctance to engage, a person who sits in a corner convinced s/he has nothing to offer. For generations that came before me the latter affliction was the more common experience. In fact a tightly run hierarchy almost always left the tiny number of the elite at the top with confidence and the vast majority of those at the bottom feeling “less than”. Like the majority of the population my relations were poor, working class, never imagining that anyone with authority would ever seek out their opinion or input.
But since the 1960’s a new ethos has emerged in our culture, one that posits in every individual the belief that s/he is a genius, gifted beyond imagination, the answer to every prayer. When I was a new Minister in rural communities it was common to invite me to attend junior high and high school graduations. I could recite from memory the speeches the Principal would give to the graduates. “I look out at this class and I see the next generation of innovators, business leaders, Premiers and Prime Ministers, rock stars and best-selling authors.” I would think to myself, “I pray for the teacher who has to offer constructive criticism to these little geniuses.” At parent teacher nights I would overhear bewildered parents saying to teachers, “but I know my son is a math genius, how could he receive any less than a 99% mark?” One of the reasons I know I could never be a teacher is having that conversation.
What I love about the Gospel text above is how the balance of our dance with confidence plays out. In that text the central character is a rich man, someone with considerable influence and confidence. The Gospel is calling on this rich man to consider that “the first shall come last and the last shall come first”. In other words an upside down look at the present with the lens of the kingdom of God. It’s not easy for the rich man to do this, so difficult that it is compared to a camel walking through the eye of a needle. But while such things may be impossible for us in God’s world all things are possible. My take-away from this text is that when we are truly a community of disciples, discerning Jesus’ Spirit in prayer, we will find our way so that those with so much confidence that they are arrogant will be humbled and those with so little confidence will be inspired by the Spirit to fulfill God’s vision of Shalom.
It’s not that we need to tamp down all human confidence or to gin up all human confidence, it is rather that we need to apply the confidence that comes with being a child of God in such a manner that those with power are considerate of others and those without power are drawn into the community as a sister and brother in faith. With God all things are truly possible.